When it comes to your ceremony, it’s up to you what traditions you want to honor and which ones you would rather leave behind. Your ceremony can be completely personalized to you, your partner, and the relationship that you’ve built together.
The legal side of getting married depends entirely on where you live and where you elope—so do your research beforehand, familiarize yourself with local laws and regulations, and decide if you want to go through the steps of getting legally married on your actual wedding day or if you’d prefer to do it before, after, or not at all.
Officiant & Witnesses
Most U.S. States require you to have an officiant and witnesses for your ceremony and sign your license. You can hire a professional officiant, ask a friend or family member that’s attending to get ordained online (if that’s legal in that state), or (lucky you) I’m already ordained, so as long as my ordination from the Universal Life Church (a non-denominational organization) is valid where you want to elope, I’d be happy to sign your paperwork if you let me know in advance. As far as witnesses go, make sure to research the exact regulations for your location, but in most states, anyone over 18 can be a witness. You can ask friends or family members, any of your wedding vendors, or even random hikers on the trail to be witnesses.
Some U.S. states like Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Washington D.C. allow you to self-solemnize–which is a law that grants you and your partner to legally marry each other without any officiant or witnesses.
If you want to get legally married on the same day that you say your vows, you could have your ceremony in a courthouse or simply swing by, do the paperwork, and read your vows in another location on that same day. Research beforehand whether you need an appointment and have all of your required documents gathered, so that it’s not something you need to stress about day-of.
Many couples choose to not worry about the legal part of getting married on the day they say their vows. This is called a “commitment ceremony,” “symbolic ceremony,” or “promise ceremony.” It’s essentially getting married without a marriage license. Having a commitment ceremony means your wedding day plans are completely unhindered by rules or legalities and can open the door for more location possibilities and require less people involved. If you choose to have a commitment ceremony, you can still do the paperwork and make it legal on another day, but some couples choose not to do the legal side or aren’t able to get legally married per the law.
Sign Before or After
If you want to get legally married without worrying about an officiant, witnesses, or paperwork on the day you get married, a great option is to go to the courthouse or county clerk and recorder before your trip or after you get back. For some couples, it’s advantageous to get legally married for tax or benefit purposes before the day they read their vows. If you want, you can invite your family or friends to get ordained or be witnesses and make a fun experience out of signing the paperwork back home.
Regardless of how you choose to do the legal side of getting married, there are numerous traditions that you can decide to incorporate on the day you say your vows—or you can skip them all and decide on your own.
Here are some ideas of what exactly you can do during your elopement or intimate wedding ceremony:
Read Personalized Vows
Reflect upon your relationship
Declare any promises that you want to share about your future together, express any emotions that you are feeling, and commit your life to your partner
Exchange Rings or Another Token
Rings are traditional since they represent an infinity with no beginning and no end, but you could exchange any other symbol that is important to and honors your relationship.
First Kiss & First Dance
Celebrate some exciting firsts in your new married life together with your first kiss as a married couple and your first dance.
Play your favorite song on a portable speaker, have a musician play your favorite tune, or surprise your partner with your musical talent by playing your own instrument or singing an original song.
If allowed and safe (please check fire bans and always leave no trace), this ceremony requires a bundle of sage, a way of lighting it, and a bowl. The intention is that you light the sage, which is symbolic for replacing any negative energies with positive, healing ones. You can also use an essential oil sage spray if fire isn’t safe.
This is originally a Celtic pagan ceremony where the hands of you and your partner are bound together by a braided rope, and it both figuratively and literally joins you and your partner. You can also have friends or family members participating in tying cords around your hands.
A unity ceremony consists of joining two parts of something into a singular piece, and it is representative of merging your life together with your partner’s life. Traditionally, this has been done by lighting a unity candle, but you can also combine two different colors of sand or plant a tree together—whatever feels like a unification of you and your partner.
You can ask friends or family members who aren’t physically present on your day to write you a letter for you to read during your ceremony. This is a beautiful way to feel their presence and support.
Surprises & Gifts
If you have a special surprise or gift for your partner, whether it’s a handmade gift, jewelry, or something else, giving it to your partner during your ceremony can be really special!
Create Space for Those Not Present
As a gesture to a special person or people who could not physically attend your day, you can include a moment of silence during your ceremony or incorporate a memento from them into your wedding day.